After a thrilling duel in Game 5 between Jimmy Butler and LeBron James, in which the Heat emerged with a win to force Game 6, the Lakers left no doubt of the outcome of Game 6 or the series on Sunday as they dominated from the opening tip en route to a 106-93 win that was not as close as the final indicated, and their latest NBA championship.
It is title No. 4 for LeBron James on his third different team — all of which have won a title — and the 17th overall championship for the Lakers organization. It will be the second ring for Rajon Rondo and third for Danny Green and JaVale McGee, but for the much of the Lakers roster, Sunday was their first time hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy.
For the Heat, it was a bitter end to an incredible season, as they simply never seemed to have anything for the Lakers in Game 6, falling behind by 28 at the half and never mounting a charge to get back into the game. It was an emphatic exclamation point on the season from the Lakers, and we now head into an offseason where 29 other teams know who they’re trying to chase down and knock off in 2021.
Here are our takeaways from Game 6:
1. LeBron James is still the best postseason player in the NBA
LeBron was ready to be done with the Bubble on Friday, but Jimmy Butler spoiled his 40-point effort at closing things out. As such, he had to spend another weekend in Orlando and by Sunday, he once again was ready to assert himself and put an end to this season and take home another title. The result was a 28-point, 14-rebound, 10-assist performance in which he put the finishing touches on another Finals MVP win, becoming the first player to win that award with three different teams.
James was in attack mode from the jump, going downhill and at the rim all night, with Miami having no answers for him when he put the ball on the floor.
Nobody runs the floor like @KingJames.
(📺: ABC) pic.twitter.com/pHrZ3Rh9pj
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 12, 2020
LBJ gets it back from Caruso and double-clutches on the throw down! #NBAFinals
Game 6 on ABC pic.twitter.com/P2nv4Sk8zy
— NBA (@NBA) October 12, 2020
In a league filled with talent like we’ve never really seen before, it remains incredible the way LeBron is able to continue separating himself and putting forth incredible performances as he continues to rewrite playoff record books — he passed Derek Fisher for the most playoff games played on Sunday with 260. It has become cliche to say we need to appreciate LeBron James while he continues to do this and I personally have little interest in relitigating the GOAT debate, but what he continues to do is astounding and few players have ever had the ability to find that extra gear in big games that James is able to.
2. The Lakers “others” stepped up big time
LeBron was sensational and Anthony Davis was terrific in Game 6, but. as has been the case for much of this postseason, the Lakers role players stepped up to give them big contributions on both ends. All year the question for the Lakers is whether they have enough support for James and Davis to win a title, and this postseason they answered that with an emphatic yes.
Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, in particular, gave them a huge lift, as Rondo had 13 first half points and the two combined for 36 on the night.
— NBA (@NBA) October 12, 2020
MUST-SEE NBA FINALS GAME 6 NOW ON ABC! 👀📺
— NBA (@NBA) October 12, 2020
The were two players that heard plenty of criticism during the regular season from the L.A. fans, but the Lakers don’t win this title without their steady contributions this postseason. Playoff Rondo became a meme, but what he did for the Lakers in stepping into a ball-handling void was huge, while also upping his shooting and scoring efficiently. Caldwell-Pope was their most reliable three-point shooter in the playoffs, hitting 38.4 percent from deep this postseason entering Game 6, showing consistency after some serious lulls in the regular season.
Elsewhere, Alex Caruso proved his value as a point of attack defender all playoffs long, and really every rotation player for the Lakers gave them great effort on that end, which was a major factor in what led them to a title. James and Davis will get the lion’s share of the credit and deservedly so, but the contributions from the rest of the roster deserve to be highlighted as they were excellent in Game 6 and, really, for much of the playoffs.
3. The Heat looked out of gas
Some of this is certainly due to the Lakers defensive pressure, but Miami simply didn’t seem to have their usual edge on Sunday. Jimmy Butler was unable to replicate his Game 5 scoring output, with just 10 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds, and the rest of the Heat couldn’t pick up the slack. Bam Adebayo finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds, but despite solid numbers he continued to look just a bit off as he never appeared to be at his best since returning from his Game 1 neck strain. Tyler Herro struggled with efficiency all series and went just 2-for-9 in Game 6, as he never fully acclimated himself to the defensive attention the Lakers gave him and suddenly looked a lot like a rookie.
Goran Dragic made his return in Game 6 and moved far better than I think anyone anticipated, but likewise wasn’t able to impact the game as he had before his plantar fascia tear. Pretty much everyone on the Heat had a down night in Game 6 and that’s a recipe for disaster against a team like the Lakers. Miami shot just 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from three on the night, and it honestly looked worse than that for much of the evening.
For a team that has thrived on being able to out-effort their opponents pretty much throughout this postseason, Sunday night was pretty jarring to see. The Lakers deserve plenty of credit for never taking their foot off of the gas and offering Miami anything in the way of hope, and the Heats played much better in the second half to make the final score borderline respectable, but this game was over early in a way few expected to see after the hard-fought battle of Game 5.
4. The Lakers are officially the team to beat
They were always among the co-favorites this season with the Clippers and Bucks, but what they did this postseason was nothing short of tremendous. Their defense was there from the jump and, even as shooting came and went, that never wavered. That was on full display as they closed out a title, with LeBron and Anthony Davis embracing on the sidelines as the clock wound down having given up just 93 points — and 36 in the first half — in an NBA Finals game.
Going forward, the question to the rest of the NBA is going to officially be how do you summit the mountain and knock the Lakers off of it. Their defensive effort and adaptability are spectacular, they have a pair of superstars that play off of each other as well as any two we’ve seen in some time, and they are likely only to become a hotter destination for veterans looking to join a contender on a minimum deal after showing the proof of what they can do.
5. Where do the Heat go from here?
It was a sensational season for Miami and a playoff run few expected, and that deserves to be celebrated. Jimmy Butler was everything they wanted him to be and more. Their young players developed into contributors on a Finals team and showed the upside they all have, as well as the work ethic to continue to get better.
That said, the job for Pat Riley and company is now to figure out what to do with some key roster decisions they’ll have to make this offseason. They’ve been very clear for some time that they want cap flexibility for next summer to make a run at the 2021 crop of free agents. Goran Dragic played himself into contention for a serious contract from someone this offseason with his play this postseason, and the Heat certainly love his presence but may not want to clog up their cap sheet with longterm money. Elsewhere, there’s some clear need for frontcourt reinforcements behind Bam Adebayo that can play deep into the postseason, and Jae Crowder, who played a big role for this team in the playoffs, is likewise entering free agency.
Miami’s a team not just on the rise but a team that has established themselves as one of the best. Now we’ll see how Riley maneuvers this offseason with both the present and future in mind.